10 Items To Buy On Your First Trip To Trader Joe's And 4 To Avoid

If you've never been to a Trader Joe's, you're in for a treat. To be more accurate, you're in for quite a few literal treats. The grocery store chain is all about fun shopping environments and unique products that you won't find anywhere else. It has legions of die-hard fans, and some might even say that shopping at Trader Joe's is relaxing, or inspires excitement and happiness.

One thing that sets Trader Joe's apart from its competitors is the chain's private-label products. The company works with food manufacturers to create imaginative products that are exclusive to the chain and offered at attractive prices. It also allows shoppers to sample products before buying them and has a lenient return policy.

If you're planning your first trip to one of these iconic grocery stores, it helps to know which items are worth piling into your cart, and which are best left on the shelf. To help you avoid the common mistakes people make when shopping at Trader Joe's, we've rounded up some of the top food items that customers say are worth buying, as well as a few you may want to avoid. 

Buy: Mandarin Orange Chicken

One of Trader Joe's most beloved products can be found in the frozen foods section. The Mandarin Orange Chicken was named the best food in the Trader Joe's Customer Choice Awards so many times that the company inducted it into the Product Hall of Fame in 2023. And it's not just everyday customers who love the Asian-inspired dish. According to Business Insider, even chefs adore this ready-made meal. At just $4.99 for a 22-ounce portion, it's a great deal and well worth stocking up on.

The Mandarin Orange Chicken is both tasty and easy to make. It features pieces of battered chicken that you can pop into the oven while you heat up the sauce. Once the chicken is done, just toss it in the mandarin orange and ginger sauce and you have a hearty main that pairs beautifully with steamed vegetables and rice. The flavor is tangy, citrusy, and sweet with just a hint of spice from the ginger. Many people say this is one of Trader Joe's products you should definitely cook in the air fryer. As one Reddit user said, "Easily my favorite. They come out so crispy when air-fried!"

Buy: Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Reese's has long been the undisputed king of chocolate and peanut butter candies. However, many people believe TJ's may be giving Reese's Peanut Butter Cups a run for their money. Trader Joe fans can't get enough of the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, with many saying they're magical. One Reddit user said rather lyrically, "The depth of flavor, the satisfying snap paired with the luxurious peanut butter, the slight salty and bitter notes ... Understand that these are not mere confections, but a perfect conjuration of deliciousness."

According to Trader Joe's website, the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are made with mostly natural ingredients. This includes real peanut butter consisting of roasted and ground Virginia peanuts and high-quality dark chocolate. The company claims to use no preservatives, artificial colors, or artificial flavors.  A 454-gram container costs $4.49, which is not bad considering you get multiple mini-cups to snack on. Be careful though because many fans of the treat say it's easy to devour an entire container in one sitting. We can attest that once you start snacking on them, it's pretty difficult to stop.

Avoid: Seasoned Corn Ribs

Trader Joe's Seasoned Corn Ribs debuted in 2023. Since then, they've been getting some pretty mixed reviews. Like many Trader Joe's products, they're definitely unique. The product consists of corn cobs that have been sliced and pre-cooked so that they curl into "ribs." The corn ribs are basted with vegan cocoa butter and olive oil, sprinkled with salt, and flash-frozen. They're meant to be an easy-to-make vegan and gluten-free side dish or snack that you can just pop in the microwave, oven, or air fryer, and serve. 

In our ranking of Trader Joe's new products of 2023, the Seasoned Corn Ribs came in dead last thanks to their unappealing texture and taste. Our reviewer noted that the rib sizes were inconsistent with several large blobs of kernels amidst rigid rinds. Other reviewers have commented on how the ribs can be too oily or too dry depending on how you cook them. Many also say the taste is bizarre. For example, one Reddit user said, "My wife microwaved one for lunch and said it tasted like 'old lipstick.'" At $3.99 a bag, they won't exactly break the bank. That being said, you might be better off spending your hard-earned cash on something else.

Buy: Charles Shaw Merlot

Even if you've never been to Trader Joe's before, you may have heard of the chain's famous "Two Buck Chuck." The term refers to the Charles Shaw wine that Trader Joe's sells at ultra-cheap prices. Varietals include chardonnay, pinot grigio, shiraz, and merlot. With many bottles selling for under $5, you might think that the wines would be barely drinkable. However, the reason Two Buck Chuck is so cheap has more to do with the low cost of production and packaging than the taste or quality of the wine.

If you're looking for an affordable bottle of red wine that actually tastes good, many people say the Charles Shaw Merlot is one of the best wines you can buy at Trader Joe's. It once won a gold medal at the Orange County Fair Wine Competition and gets a pretty positive reception from reviewers. Cosmopolitan described the taste as "light and dry with a cherry-forward flavor and just the right amount of zing from some of the earthy and oaky notes." Catherine the Grape said, "The body is lighter than a typical merlot and less tannic and acidic. This is a straightforward and uncomplicated table wine."

Buy: Unexpected Cheddar Cheese

If you can only buy one cheese at Trader Joe's, the Unexpected Cheddar is a solid choice. What makes the cheese unique is that it has elements of both a smooth, creamy cheddar and a hard, salty cheese like Parmesan. According to Trader Joe's, the chain works with cheesemakers from Wisconsin who have roots in Northern Italy. When creating the chain's signature cheddar, they drew on techniques and flavors from both the New and Old Worlds. The result is a rich and tangy cheese with a hint of earthiness and umami flavor.

Year after year, the Unexpected Cheddar was consistently voted the best cheese by customers in Trader Joe's Customer Choice awards. It has now been placed in the Product Hall of Fame, effectively taking it out of the running so that newer products can have an opportunity to shine. Customers love the flavor of the cheese and how versatile the cheese is. Many say it can hold its own on a charcuterie board, but also melts gorgeously in grilled cheese sandwiches and in pastas like mac 'n cheese

Avoid: Beef Pho

Trader Joe's usually gets glowing reviews for its Asian-inspired products like the Mandarin Orange Chicken, Beef Bulgogi, and Chicken Tikka Masala. Sadly, the Beef Pho doesn't quite stack up. At first glance, it looks like it has all the core elements of a good bowl of pho: thinly sliced beef and rice noodles in herbaceous broth. Most customers agree though that the soup lacks flavor and substance. Some have even gone so far as to say it's an insult to Vietnamese cuisine.

"This sadly doesn't taste at all like pho," posted one customer on Reddit. "Rather bland, even with Sriracha. I would be surprised if anyone was a repeat buyer of this product." Another customer on Trader Joe's Reviews said, "Easily the worst thing I've ever tasted from TJ's. Broth is bland (instant ramen is more flavorful), vegetables are reduced to limp flakes suspended in the frozen soup (no dehydrated veggie packet), and very few pieces of beef. Avoid at all costs." Judging from the scathing reviews and the fact that it's currently not available in Trader Joe's online store, we're guessing the pho may be out of circulation soon.

Buy: Soy Chorizo

One of the great things about Trader Joe's is the stores have a wide range of products that cater to all types of diets. That includes vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free products. The Soy Chorizo is a customer-favorite vegan meat that many say tastes just like the sausage that features in so many Mexican and Spanish dishes. Traditional chorizo is made with spiced pork, but Trader Joe's swaps out the animal protein for soy protein. The authentic chorizo flavor comes from the spice mix, which includes paprika, red pepper, and garlic powder.

We're pretty familiar with Mexican cuisine, and we can honestly say that the Soy Chorizo could pass for the real deal if you didn't know it was vegan. It has a great meaty texture and a stellar balance of smoky and spicy flavors. Customers have great things to say about it as well, with many sharing creative ways they've used the chorizo in everything from breakfast tacos to chorizo and kale soup, and even Thanksgiving stuffing. At just $2.99 for a 12-ounce package, it's easy to buy a few and let your imagination run wild in the kitchen.

Buy: Mini Hold the Cone Ice Cream Cones

The Mini Hold the Cone ice cream cones are some of Trader Joe's most popular desserts. These crunchy cones are filled with ultra-dense ice cream and then dipped in chocolate, resulting in a delightful mix of textures and flavors. They're cool and refreshing, but also creamy, sweet, and crispy all at the same time. Even better, they come in a variety of flavors like chocolate, coffee bean, and chocolate chip. Trader Joe's also puts out seasonal flavors like peppermint and pumpkin ginger.

These tasty frozen desserts from Trader Joe's have a huge fan following with many customers saying they always have a box of these stashed away in their freezer. One Reddit user said, "I keep them in my work freezer and eat one instead of screaming at people." Another Reddit user on the same thread said, "I live far from my TJs. I absolutely have had an entire box on the way home as dinner. I regret nothing." The brand also has vegan, non-dairy version called Hold the Dairy, so lactose-intolerant and plant-based eaters don't have to miss out.

Avoid: Ketchup Flavored Sprinkle Seasoning Blend

Creativity is one of Trader Joe's strong points when it comes to developing products. However, some of the things the chain comes up with may leave you scratching your head. Take for example the Ketchup Flavored Sprinkle Seasoning Blend. Essentially this is powdered ketchup. If you want to get technical about it, the mix includes tomato powder, sugar, salt, powdered vinegar, garlic powder, and onion powder. Trader Joe's touts it as a "more convenient ketchup" that you can add to foods without making them soggy. Like many customers, we just think it's weird.

As you can imagine, people have some pretty strong opinions about this bizarre condiment. One reviewer on Trader Joe's Reviews said, "Was so excited to try this. Unfortunately, it is overloaded with sugar. Way too sweet to masquerade as ketchup. It overwhelms the tomato powder. Even my grandkids said it tastes like candy. Epic fail."  A Reddit user summed it up pretty succinctly, saying, "I don't often use ketchup but if I want it — I'll use ketchup." We have to agree. 

Buy: Speculoos Cookie Butter

Speculoos Cookie Butter may be one of the unhealthiest foods you can buy at Trader Joe's, but that doesn't stop many people from stocking up on this utterly indulgent snack. The caramel-colored spread contains Belgian biscuits called speculoos. These spiced cookies are popular in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany and are traditionally served at Christmastime. Open a jar of Trader Joe's cookie butter and you get an instant aromatic hit of Christmasy spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.

What can you slather Speculoos Cookie Butter on? Pretty much anything, according to Trader Joe's customers. Club Trader Joe's suggests using it in sandwiches, making a milkshake with it, and baking it in pies, cookies, and bread. Redditors also suggest eating it with apple slices, adding it to overnight oats, or heating it up and drizzling it on ice cream. The rich, gingerbread-flavored spread is so popular that it has spawned spin-off products like Speculoos Cookie Butter Ice Cream and Speculoos Cookie Butter Beer.

Buy: Everything But The Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend

If it's seasoning you're after, skip the Ketchup Flavored Sprinkle Seasoning Blend and set your sights on the Everything But the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend. The seasoning hit the market in 2017, and now it's one of Trader Joe's most iconic products. The not-so-secret blend includes black and white sesame seeds, dried garlic, dried onion, poppy seeds, and sea salt flakes. It's the perfect complement to pretty much any dish, from avocado toast to grilled chicken, eggs, popcorn, and pizza.

Do a quick Google search for Everything But the Bagel Seasoning and you'll likely find a mix of reviews gushing about its goodness along with plenty of copycat recipes. It's pretty hard to find any bad reviews for this popular condiment. The only complaint that some people have is that it doesn't stick well to certain foods. Fortunately, there is an Everything But the Bagel Seasoning hack you can use to get around that. Lifehacker suggests simply whizzing the seasoning up in a food processor or spice grinder. The pulverized powder should stick to whatever you sprinkle it on.

Avoid: Cauliflower Pizza Crusts

Trader Joe's launched its Cauliflower Pizza Crust in 2017, the same year the Everything But The Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend came out. Unfortunately, the gluten-free pizza base did not get the same reception as the much-loved seasoning. It sounds good on paper — shredded cauliflower seasoned with herbs and spices and held together with eggs and grated Parmesan. In reality, it falls flat in terms of texture and flavor. A reviewer for Women's Health said it also literally falls apart.

The biggest complaint that people have about Trader Joe's Cauliflower Pizza Crust is that it doesn't crisp up well. A reviewer on Trader Joe's Reviews said, "I made a pizza both on a sheet pan and a cast iron, and both times the center of the pizza was a soggy mess. I even tried cooking the crust before adding ingredients and again after and it was still too soggy!" A Reddit reviewer echoed that sentiment, saying, "I had these last year and pre-baking did nothing. They just can't support anything." If you're looking for a gluten-free option, the cauliflower crusts may fit the bill. Just don't expect a super-crispy pizza.

Buy: Chili & Lime Flavored Rolled Corn Tortilla Chips

Colorful, crunchy, and coated in an irresistible Mexican-inspired seasoning blend, the Chili & Lime Flavored Rolled Corn Tortilla Chips are a top seller at Trader Joe's. The spicy snack was awarded best overall product in Trader Joe's 2023 Customer Choice Awards. The chips also took top place for best snack food. Clearly, people can't get enough of these spicy, tangy, fried corn chips. Trader Joe's suggests the tube-like shape is perfect for dipping, although many customers say they're tasty enough to stand on their own.

If you're a fan of Mexican Takis, you'll probably like Trader Joe's take on the rolled tortilla snacks. The chain's version is pretty similar, from the rolled up style of the chips to the vibrant seasoning with hints of chili and paprika. Some people even like them better than their counterparts down south. One Reddit user said, "Takis are so SALTY! They're not even spicy in my opinion, just salt. I definitely prefer the Trader Joe's ones." Another Redditor also stated that they preferred the Trader Joe's version, saying, "I think they are lighter and crisper, and there is more of a fresh lime flavor to them. Excellent snack."

Buy: Creamy Spinach & Artichoke Dip

We're not surprised that the Creamy Spinach & Artichoke Dip won the best appetizer award in Trader Joe's 15th annual Customer Choice Awards. After all, it's hard to beat the luscious combo of artichokes and spinach wrapped up in a mix of silky Swiss cheese and salty Parmesan. Despite the fact that it's from the frozen section, it's one of Trader Joe's most popular dips. Some people say that once it's heated up, it can even pass for homemade.

One of the things that people love about this dish is how versatile it is. The flavors work well with a wide array of dipping implements like pita crisps, fresh veggies, pretzels, and tortilla chips. The dip can also be used to enhance other dishes like sandwiches, pasta, and chicken. Lifehacker even suggests combining the Creamy Spinach & Artichoke Dip with chicken stock to make a soup. At just $3.79, it's an affordable freezer staple that makes for a quick and easy snack or meal when you don't feel like cooking.


Just like you, we were once newbies to the Trader Joe's scene. If we had known then what we know now, we would have saved ourselves tons of time, money, and bad meals. The products in this list were chosen based on our own Trader Joe's experiences, as well as customer opinions on popular (and not-so-popular) food items. These are the products that get overwhelmingly good reviews from customers, as well as a few products that many say aren't worth purchasing. We paid attention to the Trader Joe's food items that have cult followings. Of course, tastes are subjective, so don't be afraid to branch out and try new products. You never know what gems you might uncover at Trader Joe's.